Consumer reviews are becoming more and more of a challenge and source of fear for most dealers with widespread use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter frequented by potential customers before they buy. While these reviews were once only found on Google Places or specific automotive websites, consumers are often doing their praising and complaining where the most of their friends and family can see it. Rather than see this as a negative aspect of the digital revolution, dealers need to start taking advantage.

Dealer reviews online are the new word of mouth, and this word of mouth can reach far more prospects that much faster. Jillian Ney of Social Media Today recently gave dealers three main reasons to love the phenomenon: brand perception, innovation, and competitive advantage.

Since reviews are everywhere a dealer might think to communicate with their customers, brand perception is everywhere too, and how your brand is perceived by current and potential customers is important.

“Why wouldn’t you want to know what your customers think of you? You then have the opportunity to use positive reviews and build relationships and possibly overcome any negative reviews,” said Ney.

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Staying ahead of your reputation management is key, and can also show you where you might improve and what your customers want and expect from you. Keeping track of what customers are saying also offers insight into your competition, because as easy as it is to find reviews for your dealership, the same is true for every one of your competitors.

DrivingSales looked at how reviews can best be leveraged using examples from Prestige Volvo, rated the #1 Volvo dealer in the country. Prestige Volvo strives to ask 100% of their customers for a review after purchase or service, even for a possible video review, so that potential customers can see the videos and positive feedback about their dealership wherever they go. You can see the full video interview with Prestige Volvo here.

Some new challenges have arisen lately for monitoring reviews and keeping ahead of brand perception. Google Places dropped third-party reviews the other week from the main page of Google Maps. Dealers that had some 100+ reviews now only list a few, since only reviews posted directly to Google are being displayed.

DrivingSales and dealerELITE reported on the loss of this additional review aggregation. The important thing to remember in the fallout of the development is that Google Places is best used for its direct reviews anyway, and the loss of third-party reviews shouldn’t be discouraging so much as an incentive to ask satisfied customers to go to Google Places and review for themselves.

That being said, don’t ignore reviews from third-party sites. Make sure you are on top of your reputation management, especially when it comes to social media sites where people tend to speak more freely. Embrace your reviews online, because that is where your brand is taking shape in the minds of consumers.